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One of Vietnam's five World Cultural Heritage sites, the scenery is interesting and pretty. The city used to resemble the Forbidden City of Beijing.
Most of the extensive Citadel area is free to enter and is either regular urban area, parks, big ponds or canals. So you can stroll or bike around and see the whole place (see suggested routes below).
See the Imperial City and other sights in Hue on our 15-day tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
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The Vietnamese king Gia Long ordered a 5.8 square kilometer area enclosed in earthen walls and built his palace there 200 years ago. But events proved that the walls couldn't protect the Nguyen Dynasty from the French.
Gia Long (1762–1820) started to build the Palace of Supreme Harmony in 1803 and the “Flag Tower” (Cot Co) in 1809. The Ngo Mon Gate was started about 1833. The Citadel was mostly destroyed during the wars.
The outer perimeter walls measure about 10 kilometers in circumference, two meters thick, and 6.6 meters high. There is a moat around the walls that is about 30 meters across and 4 meters deep. This corresponds to the Beijing's Forbidden City's outer wall (3.5 kilometers in circumference, 8 meters high). A second ring of rivers and canals form a second moat around the inner moat.
The Ngo Mon Gate is the entrance to the citadel. Just inside the gate, you'll see a lotus pond and a bridge.
Inside the Citadel is the Nguyen Imperial City. It measures about 600 meters (660 yards) square, and the wall is 6 meters high with a moat.
The Imperial City had an outer court composed of zones. These included the Great Ceremonies Zone and the Worship Zone. This outer sector corresponded to the Outer Court of the Forbidden City.
Across the bridge is the Palace of Supreme Harmony.
The biggest building was called the Palace of Supreme Harmony (Dian Tai Hoa). It was built in 1805 and used for official functions. This Palace of Supreme Harmony corresponds to the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian) in the Forbidden City that was used for the same purpose. The buildings have the same name.
Behind Dian Thai Hoa are smaller halls. And beyond this is an empty grassy park where the Purple Forbidden City used to be.
Originally, the kings' innermost residence called Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Purple City) had the same name as the original name of the Forbidden City in Beijing (Zijincheng, Purple Forbidden City). The design layout resembles the Inner Court in Beijing.
Part of the reason for the similar design is that the Vietnamese and Chinese shared the same ideas about geomancy and astrology. The Forbidden City in Beijing was built to imitate the ancient astrological ideas about the layout of the mythological Purple City in heaven.
All walks start from Dien Tien Hoang Street inside Thuong Gate.
Take Dien Tien Hoang Street to the park 300 meters inside. Go to the inner walls, cross the bridge, and see the colorful and artistic broken glass and tile covered Hien Nhon Gate.
Walk along the walls, and follow Dang Thai Street and Doan Thi Diem Street to a pond.
Turn left from Dien Tien Hoang Street down Le Van Huu Street. The ponds are one of the most scenic sights. Turn down Ta Quang Buu to return
Follow Dien Tien Hoang north and cross a very long straight canal. Follow the canal on Le Trung Dinh then Tran Van Ky Street, and cross over the bridge to Trieu Quang Phuc. Go left, then right.
Walk along the moat and see Chuong Duc Gate across it. When you reach the front, you'll see the massive fort called Ky Dai.